Galerians (PlayStation) review
"Who or what are Galerians? "
Who or what are Galerians?
They are a new form of life: Humans engineered in the future by a rogue supercomputer named Dorothy to possess psychic powers. They exist both to serve her cause, and so that she may be the god of her 'own' creations, in the way that the humans who created her claimed to be her god. But Dorothy (like HAL and many other wayward artificial intelligences before her) has grown to consider her creators inferior to herself, and with the assistance of the Galerians, plans to eliminate us paltry humans and take over the world.
Galerians is an eerie sci-fi adventure in the genre we have come to know as Survival Horror (thanks Capcom). You play a fourteen year old boy named Rion, who awakens in hospital with no memory of who he is. All he knows is that he's developed dangerous psychic powers, and he finds that he will be able to use these to battle his way out of captivity and try to discover who he is and what is going on. A girl named Lilia is calling to him with telepathy for help. This will ultimately draw him into the world of the Galerians, who are all young psychically dangerous characters like Rion himself, and a plan to destroy the rampant computer Dorothy.
The core gameplay comes directly from the Resident Evil school, which Capcom has been polishing over several years, so a game like Galerians can pick it up in refined form. There are beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds and static camera angles, keys and doors, notes, puzzles, shocks and combat. What you will notice about the camera views in Galerians is that many of them are very wide. Sometimes you will be a speck dwarfed by some enormous structure, or at the far end of an incredibly deep tunnel. It's interesting to me that few games of this genre have tried this before.
The first real innovation is the psychic combat. It's a simple system, but effective, not to mention weird and scary. The source of Rion's psychic powers is... drugs! Yep, you're a drug-addicted teenager. Galerians is heavy, nasty and pretty adult, in spite of the main protagonists being teenagers, and this is what makes it so original.
Your main drugs of choice are
- Red, good for making people burst into flames
- Nalcon, which blasts them with psychic force
- D-Felon, which allows you to perform telekinesis I.E. Pick your enemies up and smack them around
The key to combat in this system is timing. Aim is a minor issue because the power comes from your mind. You hold down the R1 button to build up energy on a meter then release it to unleash your attack. Obviously, the longer you build your energy up, the more powerful the attack will be. But if you get injured while you're powering up, you lose your concentration and the attack doesn't happen.
This might be a too-simple system for some. Another side-effect is that as soon as you have two or more enemies to deal with, the difficulty of combat increases exponentially. It only takes a hit from any one enemy to knock you out of your psychic trance while you get zapped and mauled.
You have a secret weapon, though, which is the ability to 'short' out. Rion has a gauge of anger points (AP). Fighting will increase your AP at a decent rate, however they climb very slowly all the time as you explore, making shorts inevitable. When your AP peaks and you hit the attack button, you overload mentally into a deadly kind of trance. Lightning crackles from your throbbing head and anyone who comes near you, well, their head pops with a jet of blood and they die in a Bad Way. This always turns out to be the best way to deal with multiple enemies encountered at once. The downside: After you short, your hit points start to sink, and if you don't shoot up with the relief drug Delmetor, you will eventually die from this.
There is constant subtle pressure placed on you in the game, because you can never stop your AP from rising slowly. You have to keep finding more Delmetor to ward off a short. This can be frustrating when you need to travel long distances or do a lot of exploring or backtracking. I'm still not sure if it was a good idea or not. But it is distinctive.
In the early phases of the game, your enemies will be lab scientists and security guards in the hospital. Later on you will fight dark psychic figures in hats known as Bunnymen, robots, combat-suited research workers (I hate them!!) and scuttling demonic things that spit acid called Arabesques (who remind me very heavily of Resident Evil's hunters). It is an interesting line-up of foes.
With all this said, combat isn't really the focus of Galerians. The focus is the story and atmosphere.
Rion can use his psychic powers to receive images and information just by examining an object or person's aura - this is called scanning. When you first use this power, you will be intrigued by the meaning of particular images. You later realise that there is a very concrete use for this, which is that in order find the solution to some puzzles, you can actually view the location of the solution by using your scan power on the problem object. You will also trigger flashbacks to your own memory which may help unravel the mystery of yourself. There is an abstract quality to this whole aspect of the game that is really beguiling. In my favourite level, set in a run-down hotel, you can peer into the lives of the occupants of the different rooms by scanning them through the doors. Each image suggest a whole story about the occupant. Most of the stories are pretty dark. There are crazy self-destructive people, a religious freak, a drug dealer, and a distraught young woman who's been abused by one man too many.
There are many FMVs to detail all of these stories and flashes of imagery. This is probably the main reason for Galerians occupying 3 CDs. The quality of the world we see in the FMVs is superb and beautiful. I can't really say the same for the dialogue and character animation. The characters are just nowhere near expressive enough, their mouths hardly move at all, and the English version at least is often flat or weirdly performed. Then again, weird dialogue is pretty much par for the course in these games ;)
So how do all these elements mesh in the overall gameplay? Well, the puzzles aren't pushovers, but there are never any particularly hard ones either, which is disappointing. At least they're numerous enough to keep you interested. Combat is not a priority, except perhaps in the cool boss fights, which I'll talk about in a moment. There is a lot to explore, to see and to feel and think about. The implications of murdered families, drug-addicted cyberchildren, mad computers and the mystery of your own identity will provide many disturbing nights. The atmospherics, whether it's a metallic hospital, an enormous lonely mansion, or a creepy hotel, are always haunting.
While being in the survival horror genre, action is not the name of this game. I notice lots of people were disappointed with the length of Galerians. If you race through it the way you might try to race through Resident Evil, and you don't soak up the atmosphere, you will inevitably be disappointed. If you move slowly and experience everything that Rion is going through, and let the horrific things in this game wash over you, I think then you'll have a much stronger response to the game.
Those boss fights.. WOW. These are extremely challenging (apparently the difficulty was cranked up for the English versions), and also some of the coolest and most original I've ever seen. They usually involve you taking on a Galerian who has some particular psychic predilection. Birdman for instance can split himself into 3 clones and throw psychic blasts. Rainheart is a ponderous chubby teenager, who nevertheless is a vicious murderer when he adheres to his drug plan, and who teleports about, summons flaming zombies and spews stuff that looks like magma. Rita, who is disturbingly attractive and also very nasty, is definitely the most spectacular fighter. She uses telekinesis to pick up bits of furniture from around the room and hurl them at you to crush you to death. I was so surprised and excited when she first did this that for some weird reason I started to laugh. Needless to say, a few moments later I was a bleeding splat under a pile of chairs.
I'll tell you why else these fights are scary. The Galerians deeply hate your guts! They start to scream 'DIE!' when they're getting frustrated with you and trying hard to kill you. It's a great touch which raises the hairs on your neck and gives you a rare and horrible feeling, like it's really personal. You feel like you're not just fighting some 'boss' but a vengeful human being.
My only complaint about the boss battles would be that in some cases it's hard to tell when you're making progress. They're so long that you start to wonder, 'Am I hurting this person at all?' But you have to be confident and persevere. In comparison to the rest of the game, these are very harsh so you will be caught off guard. It's an imbalance, but the fights are so freaky, I don't care!
Oh yeah, and here's some great news - Galerians will allow you to retry any boss battle in which you get killed, as many times as you want, without penalty!! I don't know why other games haven't gone in for this as well. What does it really prove when you have to slog back to the boss battle again from some saved game?
Sonically, Galerians is also very beautiful. Background atmospheres are subtle and eerie. The music is sparse, often in a concrete style, and expressionistic. It reminds me of Silent Hill's soundtrack. All the incidental sounds are good.. there's a typical good range of footsteps as you wander across different types of ground. Combat sounds are cool and grisly. There are juicy thuds as you punch someone mentally with Nalcon. Listening to the whoosh of flame and the scream of your enemy will give you sadistic pleasure when you set them alight with Red. There is one overall technical problem with the sound, and that is I don't think it's mixed very well. There's too vast a range between the volume of the softest and the loudest sounds. So when you're walking around alone, you might crank it so you can hear the background, only to jump 10 feet when some character suddenly speaks and it's painfully loud. And this was through a stereo. I imagine this problem is only worse through standard TV speakers.
Galerians isn't perfect, but it is really bold, with many great and original elements, and best of all, a truly cohesive feel. Its dark and grisly world will completely absorb you. The basic elements of the door-ing, puzzling and exploring gameplay are no advance on any previous game, in fact they're less difficult than most. On the other hand, the psychic combat, the drug taking(!) and the alternate dream-like and nightmarish qualities of the visions Rion receives as he explores his own past are all excellent. The story is clever, dense and affecting. This game is about story and atmosphere. The characters are tormented and depressed. It's bleak and deliberately paced. If you're a really restless teenager, you might hate it! If you're ready for it however, this is a powerful and sophisticated journey into the horror of the future.
Community review by bloomer (March 07, 2004)
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